‘Family Car’ is no longer a great name for a car category. In recent years manufacturers have moved into new niches and have created more cars that are suitable for families.
Buyers now choose MPVs, estate cars, small SUVs and large SUVs as family cars as well as the traditional family hatchback that was the bread and butter of the family car category.
So what makes a good family hatchback? It’s got to be practical, cheap to run, good to drive, well equipped and good value to buy: in short, it needs to be good at everything. The good news is that the class is still very competitive so there are some great buys out there if you know where to look.
Here are the best and worst family hatchbacks:
In January 2015, we named the Skoda Octavia the What Car? Family Car of the Year and with good reason. It might not be the most stylish family hatchback but it makes up for that by being classy, comfortable and incredibly spacious.
All models are well equipped with even the entry-level trim coming with air-conditioning, alloy wheels, Bluetooth, DAB digital radio and a USB socket as standard. There’s also a wide range of engines to choose from and even the entry-level 1.2-litre petrol engine – which is smooth and quiet – has enough power to shift the Octavia’s bulk.
Speaking of bulk, the Octavia is not a small car. It’s closer in size to a Ford Mondeo than a Ford Focus and that means there’s loads of room for six-footers and a massive boot as well.
It’s not just size that sets the Octavia above the competition, it also offers great value for money. The Octavia undercuts the equivalent Volkswagen Golf by a significant chunk and is also cheap to run thanks to its range of efficient engines.
If you’re looking for a family hatchback you should definitely test drive the Skoda Octavia, and if that isn’t practical enough for you, there’s always the estate version.
Pick of the range: 1.2 TSI 105 SE
The best of the rest
The Audi A3 range comes with strong, efficient engines, and it strikes an excellent balance between comfort and control on SE suspension. The cabin is beautifully built, with plenty of space for four and a useful-sized boot.
We’d recommend buyers choose the A3 Sportback, which comes with five doors and boosts practicality. Whichever A3 you choose, you’ll get a stylish, premium family hatchback. It’s no surprise it was our What Car? Car of the Year in 2013.
Pick of the range: 1.4 TFSI 125 SE
The Skoda Superb is bigger than most large executive cars, yet is cheaper than many family cars. It’s also generously equipped, has a classy cabin and should be painless to own, so is an excellent choice.
Pick of the range: 2.0 TDI 150 SE
This generation of Volkswagen Golf is the best yet. It’s refined, comfortable and enjoyable to drive, it also comes with a well built and practical cabin. It’s smaller than our favourite family hatchback, the Skoda Octavia, but it is more refined and better to drive.
Pick of the range: 1.4 TSI 122 Match 5dr
BMW 1 Series
The only rear-drive hatch in the class, the BMW 1 Series offers a strong combination of performance, economy and emissions. It also handles well and rides comfortably, too.
The BMW 1 Series is one of the best small family cars you can buy because it’s hugely desirable, good to drive and surprisingly cheap to run, although its rivals beat it when it comes to practicality.
Pick of the range: 116d Efficient Dynamics 5dr
The Ford Focus is another family hatchback that’s a joy to drive. The five-door family hatchback is a perennial best-seller and with good reason, it’s refined, safe and economical. Only its cabin lets it down – Ford can’t quite compete with the quality and premium feel of the Volkswagen Group’s offerings.
Pick of the range: 1.6 TDCi 115 Zetec
One of the larger family hatchbacks, the Ford Mondeo has lots of space inside and is also good to drive. It comes with lots of standard kit and the most efficient diesel versions have impressively low CO2 emissions. Go for the good-value and efficient 1.6-litre diesel version and you’ll have an excellent family car.
Pick of the range: 1.6 TDCi 115 Zetec
There are lots of reasons to recommend the Hyundai i30. It’s got a spacious cabin that looks good and is well made. Standard specification is generous and it comes with an affordable price tag. On top of that it also comes with Hyundai’s five-year, unlimited mileage warranty. It’s not as good to drive as some rivals but is worthy of some serious consideration.
Pick of the range: 1.6 CRDi 110 Blue Drive Active 5dr
The Kia Ceed is great value for money, with lots of space, a high-quality cabin and plenty of kit for a very competitive price. It also comes with a seven-year warranty to offer you peace of mind. It competes with the best hatchbacks in a number of areas, so it should definitely feature on your shortlist.
Pick of the range: 1.6 CRDi 126 1 ISG 5dr
Nissan has returned to the family car class with its latest hatchback, the Pulsar. It’s got one of the most spacious interiors in the class and it also comes with a decent spec. Unfortunately its resale values let it down but if you stick with one of the cheaper models, you’re getting a good all-rounder.
Pick of the range: 1.2 DIG-T 115 Visia
Like its siblings from the other manufacturers in the Volkswagen Group, the Seat Leon is good to drive with strong engines and it’s got a practical and user-friendly cabin. So why the lower star rating than the Golf and the A3? There are some cheap interior plastics and the resale values aren’t as strong. That shouldn’t be enough to take it off your shopping list, though.
Pick of the range: 1.4 TSI 150 FR 3dr
The Vauxhall Astra is one of the best family hatchbacks around. It’s much cheaper than an equivalent VW Golf, and a better all-rounder than a Ford Focus. It’s good to drive, practical and well equipped.
Pick of the range: 1.4T 150 SRi
The Volkswagen Passat is a comfortable and refined high-speed cruiser, with a plush, roomy cabin. It’s also relatively cheap to own, either as a company or private car. It’s classy, spacious and has plenty of high-tech equipment. It does everything you’d ask of a family car but because it’s a saloon it’s not quite as practical as some rivals.
Pick of the range: 2.0 TDI 150 SE
One to avoid
In the MG6’s favour, it is spacious and well equipped but that’s not enough to counteract the fact that it doesn’t make financial sense because its engines are inefficient and its resale values are weak. On top of that, its interior plastics are cheap and nasty and its refinement is awful.
It’s worth noting that the one-star rating is for the older car, but the facelifted model has actually got a three-star rating. Read about that here and if you’re looking at buying one, make sure you get the latest version.
The facelifted MG6 is on sale now and has a cleaner look with restyled bumpers, head- and taillights, plus a cleaner diesel engine. MG has also improved the technology, which includes a vastly better infotainment system. Perhaps most significant of all, however, they have dropped the price by up to £3k.